Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Note to Democratic candidates:
let’s not just build a better asshole

Let me serve notice—this will be the first post where I assume that the Democratic presidential nomination is Barack Obama’s to lose. Senator Obama’s wins last night in Wisconsin and Hawaii were impressive all by themselves, for sure, but a shallow dig beneath the aggregate numbers shows a trend that can’t be music to Hillary Clinton’s ears: Clinton barely won (statistically tied, really) among white women, and Obama claimed an advantage among those earning under $50,000, as well. If these trends continue in Texas, and especially in Ohio, Clinton has almost nowhere to turn for dependable votes.

This will likely result in a new round of what, honestly, have been fairly light attacks from the Clinton camp. She’ll continue her war on rhetoric, no doubt, maybe try again to go after the Obama health plan, and, as now seems likely, attack the Illinois Senator for being somehow less tough than she when it comes to being “Commander in Chief.”

Oh, wait, that’s what she did in Youngstown, OH, before the final Wisconsin results came in: "One of us is ready to be commander in chief in a dangerous world."

This is a crappy plan of attack for at least three reasons:

First, given her votes on the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq, and the branding of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, Senator Clinton’s judgment on foreign and military affairs has been something less than impressive. Clinton’s attempts to rationalize these votes without repudiating them only serve to muddy her efforts to look large and in charge.

Second, last August, Barack Obama was the candidate that advocated attacking suspected terrorist camps inside Pakistan without the permission of the Pakistani government. Clinton criticized him, and Bush criticized him, but, just last month, the CIA apparently did essentially what Obama had advocated.

And third, and perhaps most importantly, I can pretty much guarantee that there are already consultants and communications hacks over at the RNC and various rightwing 527s logging that little clip of Hillary Clinton and readying it for placement in countless attack ads to be run against Barack Obama in the general election.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I believe that Hillary Clinton has every right to fight for the nomination through March 4th, and maybe beyond. And, I expect the Obama campaign to have a cogent response to the Clinton attacks (if they don’t, I will be left not only disappointed, but a bit nervous). But I do wish that this fight would take place on different ground.

I do not relish the prospect of two Democrats trying to “out-tough” each other, and I anticipate with extreme dread the prospect of our Democratic nominee, no matter who it is, trying to appear more macho than the Republican (can anybody say, “John Kerry reporting for duty?”). Not because I don’t think that Democrats can be “tough,” mind you, and not even because John McCain is such a hero (he’s not—he’s an Asshole), but because these arguably tough times require so much more than tough talk, macho, and blunt force.

I understand the need for candidate Obama to make clear and unequivocal statements about going after those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but I would hope that President Obama would be more sophisticated about our problems than putting in place a policy of letting the CIA have at it inside sovereign countries. I don’t care how many suspected al Qaeda operatives a handful of Hellfires can kill—the challenges that accrue from what all the remaining candidates (mistakenly) attribute to this “war on terror” cannot be met with missiles, or CIA missions, or even a million more troops.

Yes, I want to see a Democrat win in November, but what I really want is to see a Democrat lead. Leadership is not about acting tough. Leadership is not even about being “ready to be commander in chief.” This is something that has clearly been lost on the Republicans for the last decade, and I fear that it is something that might be lost on Clinton, here, too.

I want a president that is tough—but not with the world. I want a president that is tough with the cowardly, reductivist, macho Republicans. I want a president that says we’ve tried it your way—and it made things worse—now let me teach you about the Democratic way.

And it will be up to that president—that leader—to teach many in America and the world, as well. Teach them that we don’t believe in Pax Americana, or Fortress America, or even in the "clash of civilizations." Teach them that we can lead by example rather than by force. Teach them that it is cheaper to fight poverty, fear, hunger, and hopelessness than it is to fight “terror.” (Hell, I’d even say, teach them that you can’t “fight ‘terror’”—but that’s just me.)

Sure, this might be hard at first. It might even require the expenditure of some of that there "political capital." But, if the Democrat runs a campaign that lifts America up from the violent sewer that the Bush Administration has dragged us into, if our candidate separates the Democratic future from the Republican past, if he or she teaches Americans that we aren’t badder or tougher, but different, while training the opposition that Democrats plan to actually be different, well, if our presidential candidate can do all of that, then I believe there will be political capital to spare.

Of course, I would like to see our Democratic candidates build themselves up rather than tear the other Democrat down—but, most of all, I don’t want to see either of them try to out-McCain McCain. John McCain is an asshole—a nasty, vindictive, dishonest asshole—and I don’t need or want my next president to be the better asshole.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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